The Russian Federal Security Service said March 30, 2023, that it had arrested Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, a U.S. citizen, on espionage charges in the city of Yekaterinburg. (AFP/Dimitar Dilkoff)

Russia detains Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on espionage charges

Paris, March 30, 2023—Russian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Wall Street Journal reporter and U.S. citizen Evan Gershkovich, drop all charges against him, and allow the media to work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.

On Thursday, March 30, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) stated that it had detained Gershkovich, a Moscow-based reporter with The Wall Street Journal, in the city of Yekaterinburg, according to multiple news reports. Later that day, a Moscow court ordered Gershkovich to be placed under arrest until May 29 on charges of spying for the U.S. government, according to a statement by the joint press service of the Moscow courts.

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the authorities have imposed harsh restrictions on the independent press.

The Wall Street Journal said that Gershkovich was detained on Wednesday on a reporting trip in Yekaterinburg. The Journal said it “vehemently denies the allegations from the FSB and seeks the immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter.” The Journal did not immediately respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.

“By detaining the American journalist Evan Gershkovich, Russia has crossed the Rubicon and sent a clear message to foreign correspondents that they will not be spared from the ongoing purge of the independent media in the country,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Gershkovich, drop all charges against him, and let the media work freely and without fear of reprisal.”

The White House in a statement issued Thursday condemned “in the strongest terms” Gershkovich’s detention, calling it “unacceptable” for the Russian government to target American citizens. The statement also condemned “the Russian government’s continued targeting and repression of journalists and freedom of the press.” In a similar statement, the U.S. State Department said it was “deeply concerned” over the journalist’ detention and called on U.S. citizens in Russia to leave the country immediately.

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested on espionage charges in Russia, is escorted by officers from the Lefortovsky court in Moscow on March 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

CPJ emailed the FSB, the Russian Foreign Ministry, and the press office of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow for comment, but did not immediately receive any reply.

The FSB said it “intercepted the illegal activities” of Gershkovich, accused the journalist of collecting information “constituting a state secret about the activities of one of the enterprises of the Russian military-industrial complex,” and stated he was detained “while attempting to obtain classified information.” If convicted, Gershkovich could face up to 20 years in jail, according to Article 276 of the Russian Criminal Code.

Gershkovich has lived in Moscow for six years, was accredited with the Russian Foreign Ministry, and was covering Russia as part of The Wall Street Journal’s Moscow bureau.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova alleged that Gershkovich’s actions in Yekaterinburg had “nothing to do with journalism,” adding that it was “not the first time that a well-known Westerner has been ‘grabbed by the hand.’” Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, said that Gershkovich was “caught red-handed.”

“Evan is a thoroughly professional journalist who has been arrested by the FSB on obviously bogus espionage charges. Journalism is not a crime. Evan should be released immediately,” Pjotr Sauer, a reporter for The Guardian newspaper, and a friend and former colleague of Gershkovich, told CPJ via messaging app.

At least 19 journalists, were behind bars in Russia on December 1, 2022, when CPJ conducted its most recent prison census.

Editor’s note: The text has been updated in the sixth paragraph with statements from the White House and the U.S. State Department.